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Chesterfield Inlet

Chesterfield Inlet

Kivalliq School Operations (KSO)



Chesterfield Inlet is one of the oldest Nunavut communities: it celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011-2012. “Chester,” as it is known, has always been a site where Inuit gathered. As a transportation node, Inuit moved through the area inland to Baker Lake and beyond, and up and down the coast. The Inuktitut name for the community, Igluligaarjuk, means “place with a few igloos.” In the 1700s, explorers “discovered” Chester when they were looking for the Northwest Passage. The English name for the community was established in 1749, when the community was named after the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, then the British Secretary of State. During the 1800s Chesterfield Inlet was a busy whaling centre, with many local Inuit obtaining employment with the various whaling expeditions that visited the area. Many of the whaling expeditions chose to overwinter in Chesterfield Inlet in order to begin the season earlier in the year, before Hudson Bay was clear of ice.


In 1911 the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established a trading post and supply base from which other posts within the region could be resupplied. In addition to the HBC, the RCMP also established a major barracks for the region, and the Catholic Church had a major mission, a residential school (now closed), and a hospital run by the Grey Nuns. The hospital is now a group home, the Naja Isabelle Home, which primarily houses children with special needs, and some Elders. Chesterfield Inlet continued to be a supply centre into the 1950s. Now one of Nunavut’s smallest communities, Chesterfield Inlet achieved Hamlet status in 1980. The Hamlet provides a broad selection of historical resources, both in images and print, on its website.


The Government of Nunavut (GN) Employee Orientation website offers an excellent collection of material on the general history of Nunavut, together with an overview of Inuit culture and history and an explanation of how Inuit cultural principles are being incorporated into government operations and services. We recommend exploring this site once it is available again after their restructuring, for now you can try the general GN site for information.


Chesterfield Inlet is a traditional community in which hunting and fishing are a prevalent part of everyday life. As a reflection of their vibrant culture, many local women make home-crafted parkas, hand-sewn fur mitts and traditional sealskin boots to provide warm clothing for their families. Inuktitut is widely used in the community. In fact, 85% of the population claims Inuktitut as their mother tongue, even though 97% of the population speaks English. English edges out Inuktitut slightly as the language spoken most often at home, but 90% use Inuktitut regularly in the home. A handful of people in the community also speak French as well.


The influence of the Roman Catholic Church has been very strong in Chesterfield Inlet since Father Turquetil and Father Leblanc established the Catholic Mission in 1912. It became the primary centre for Catholic missionary activities along the Hudson Bay coast, resulting in virtually the entire community becoming Roman Catholic. Notre Dame de la Deliverande is currently the only church in Chesterfield Inlet.


Chesterfield Inlet has one of Nunavut’s youngest populations. The 2011 census counted 35 preschool and 95 school-age children, making 42% of the population under 18. There is a slightly higher percentage (6%) of adults over 65 in Chesterfield Inlet compared to most Nunavut communities. This may be because the care home is located there. There is no one older than 80 living in Chester.


Chesterfield Inlet’s economy is chiefly local and is largely focused on providing goods and services to community residents. Many people still engage in subsistence hunting. There is a commercial Arctic char fishery, and the Iqalukpik fish plant processes the catch. Commercial fishing begins in June and runs until September. It is administered by the local Aqigiq Hunters and Trappers Organization. Chester does not have the decentralized government offices that form a significant part of the economy of many Nunavut communities. However, the Hamlet has an active economic development office that is working on plans to support the local hunting and fishing economy, look for additional economic development opportunities, promote tourism, and preserve Chester’s considerable historic resources and traditional knowledge. Details can be found on the Hamlet website.


Like many Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Chesterfield Inlet, and cash supplies can often become very limited. The Northern Store and Pitsiulak Co-op store offer “light banking” services, which may include the ability to maintain a small cash account with the store, cash cheques, etc. There is an ATM at the Northern Store, with a limited cash supply. It is highly recommended that newcomers establish Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly since postal service can often be delayed by weather disruptions.


Depending on their migration route for the year, caribou are frequently seen about an hour or so outside of town. People fish for Arctic char or lake trout in surrounding lakes. In the spring, ringed, bearded or harp seals are found at the floe edge about half an hour away. October and November are migratory months for the many polar bears that roam the region and sometimes make unwelcome appearances in the community! The Hamlet website provides an excellent page on local flora and fauna. 

Further Reading: 
  • Bennett, John & Susan Rowley, eds. Uqalurait: an oral history of Nunavut. Montréal & Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2004.
  • Copland, A. Dudley. Coplalook: Chief Trader, Hudson’s Bay Company, 1923-39. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwyer, 1989.
  • Dewar, Miriam, ed. The Nunavut handbook: travelling in Canada’s Arctic. Iqaluit: Ayaya Marketing & Communications, 2004.
  • Dorais, Louis-Jacques. The language of the Inuit: syntax, semantics and society in the Arctic. Montréal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2010.
  • Eber, Dorothy Harley. When the whalers were up North. Montréal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989
  • Fossett, Renee. In order to live untroubled: Inuit of the Central Arctic, 1550-1940. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2001.
  • Issenman, Betty Kobayashi. Sinews of Survival: the living legacy of Inuit clothing. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997.
  • MacDonald, John. The Arctic sky: Inuit astronomy, star lore and legend. Iqaluit & Toronto: Nunavut Research Institute and Royal Ontario Museum, 1998.
  • McGhee, Robert. The last imaginary place: a human history of the Arctic world. Toronto: Key Porter Books, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2004.
  • Morrison, David and Georges-Hébert Germain. Inuit: glimpses of an Arctic past. Hull: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1995.
  • Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. The Inuit way: a guide to Inuit culture, rev. ed. Ottawa: Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2006.